Uncover practical strategies to enhance productivity in software development by managing technical debt, meet evolving user expectations, and industry compliance. Learn how to sustain the software lifespan in this article.
No software survives forever—it will eventually succumb to technical debt. It manifests in various forms: unresolved bugs swept under the rug, deferred implementation of agreed-upon architectural changes, and neglecting updates to open-source libraries. Each contributes to the overall burden, and, at some point, the interest becomes so high that you must pay.
In an ideal world, addressing this debt would be prioritized, but often the focus shifts towards fulfilling customer demands for new features or pursuing strategic enhancements. Consequently, bug fixes, architectural improvements, and code compliance enhancements—critical for maintaining industry compliance—are deprioritized or buried in the graveyard.
Ensuring the long-term health of software is challenging, but it is possible to adopt strategies that maintain freshness, incorporate enhancements, and manage technical debt effectively. With customers now proactively seeking to combat obsolescence, no longer content with their product becoming outdated within a decade, we explore practical approaches to ensure a longer lifespan.
“Technical debt may seem insignificant when small, but I liken it to the ‘broken windows effect,’ observes Jutta Eckstein, a coach, consultant, and trainer with over 20 years of experience specializing in agile software development. “Just as a broken window in one part of town can lead to the overall deterioration of the area, technical debt left unattended can have a similar ripple effect. By addressing it promptly, you can prevent its spread and mitigate its impact.”
Effective communication and collaboration within agile teams are pivotal in addressing technical debt. Transparency is vital; openly acknowledging the presence of technical debt is the first step toward resolving it. “Often, everyone is aware of the problem but hesitates to address it due to concerns about slowing down development or needing to fix it personally. However, fostering open discussion and shared responsibility can help overcome these challenges.”
To foster a healthy team culture, prioritizing psychological safety is crucial. “It’s easy to lose focus and engage in blame games. Providing a safe space is essential, where every team member can freely contribute to the product’s success, regardless of individual contributions or circumstances. Everyone is continuously learning; even seasoned professionals make mistakes.”
Eckstein adds that sharing the load should involve junior and senior team members: “I have often observed repetitive tasks, such as testing, being assigned to junior developers while seniors work on more exciting features. Embracing shared responsibility across the entire team encourages mutual learning and support, fostering collaboration in resolving issues together.”
As the focus on building psychological safety within teams intensifies, the availability of software tools to address technical debt is also on the rise. Using open-source software libraries means managing technical debt is shared among many for commonly used software components. Software developers can then focus on creating value-adding functionality. Within the Qt portfolio, developers have access to various tools and software libraries that capitalize on widespread commercial use and the active involvement of an open-source community.
Peter Schneider, Senior Product Manager at Qt, highlights the daily scrutiny and feedback that its open-source software libraries, comprising of more than three million lines of code, receive from a user base of over 3,500 commercial customers and tens of thousands of users in the open-source community: “They help identify bugs and improve the code. Sometimes they even contribute bug fixes directly. Improvement suggestions from the community will be integrated based on merits into the codebase—shared code used by many is better maintained than proprietary code used only by a single company.”
Empowering developers with proactive code maintenance tools is crucial to avoid reactive measures when it’s too late. Among the notable tools are static code analyzers facilitating the identification and removal of unnecessary code, thereby reducing technical debt and simplifying maintenance. Additionally, regular scans by static code analyzers can ensure architectural compliance, notifying developers promptly if deviations from architecture guidelines create technical debt.
As the availability of software tools to address technical debt continues to increase, there is a growing interest in exploring the potential of AI.
Eckstein sees AI playing a crucial role in pinpointing and addressing technical debt by detecting dependencies: “It can introduce greater automation into testing and deployment processes, aiding in streamlining and improving efficiency. It can also help uncover hidden complexities within code, allowing for targeted remediation efforts.”
However, she emphasizes that agile development teams can address technical debt effectively through realistic planning: “Practical planning is essential, as overcommitment or unrealistic promises can lead to stress and compromise the ability to address technical debt effectively.” Ultimately, a combination of AI tools and agile practices can contribute to improved software development and management.
In addition, the experience gained by product managers, such as Schneider, who have witnessed the ramifications of accumulated technical debt spanning two decades, also shapes maturity within the software industry. “The realization has emerged that managing technical debt incrementally over time is a more cost-effective approach. The industry matures as individuals recognize the consequences of neglecting technical debt.”